Black and Jewish communities are under attack: Here’s how we protect ourselves

A person visits a makeshift memorial near the scene of the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/The Associated Press
A person visits a makeshift memorial near the scene of the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.

Recent months have not been easy for the Black and Jewish communities in the United States. Even before a racially motivated gunman in Buffalo killed 10 African-Americans, the FBI reported 57 bomb threats to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) since January. The Jewish community endured at least 42 bomb threats since January 1, mostly at Jewish community centers, according to a count kept by the Secure Community Network (SCN).  In January, an armed attacker held four Jews hostage at a Colleyville, Texas synagogue for 11 hours.

No threats of violence or intimidation will prevent the education of Black students or the religious expression of Jewish individuals. Our communities have faced racism and antisemitism for decades without shuttering our campuses or closing our doors. We shall always overcome, but we need help to do so.

We need more security funding to adequately protect our communities.

We face one of the most complex and dynamic threat environments in our nation’s history. Whether the threats and attacks come from domestic extremists or international terrorists, it is essential that our security efforts outpace criminals in terms of preparation, resources and sophistication.

HBCUs employ their own campus security and law enforcement, but often lack the training and resources to fully respond to complex threats. Bomb threats especially have the potential to disrupt the education of Black students or the religious and cultural life of the Jewish community as campuses and facilities are forced to shut down to investigate the credibility of every bomb threat received.

Fortunately, our government has responded to these recurring threats. Congress has made additional security funding available to HBCUs through the Project School Emergency Response to Violence program. In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) recently called for emergency funding to be used to enhance security at Virginia’s HBCUs.

As part of President Biden’s budget proposal, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security supports calls for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) to double in funding from $180 million to $360 million. Unfortunately, even this level of funding is below the $400 million in grant funding sought by nonprofit facilities last year.

Given the recent surge in extremist threats, the need for funds is even higher today.  

These grants have been used by nonprofits and faith-based communities to add electric locks on doors, place panic buttons in school classrooms, install cameras, build new security gates and strengthen glass doors and exterior windows. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the hostages from Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, credited the Nonprofit Security Grant Program for updated cameras that provided vital information to the police and FBI during the hostage incident.

We need the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to increase to ensure all institutions, from HBCUs to Jewish community centers, are as safe, secure and prepared as possible. As we have seen, these attacks can happen anywhere at any time against anyone, which is why additional funding is vital to keeping all our institutions safe.

The program has also allowed communities to invest in security training. Training is crucial to preparing for attacks and learning how to survive them. With the numerous bomb threats against HBCUs, and the attacks seen on the Jewish community from the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh to the hostage-taking in Colleyville, it is vital community members be trained on what to do when faced with an active threat. Survivors in Pittsburgh and Colleyville credit their survival to strategies and techniques learned from their training. More security funding from the Nonprofit Security Grant Program will lead to more lives saved and more communities protected.

Our communities remain under constant threat. We cannot choose when and where the next attack will be, but we can choose to be as prepared and safe as possible.

The Black and Jewish communities stand together in our determination to live our lives happily, peacefully and safely. America can only be a land of freedom and opportunity if all people feel safe pursuing their academic and religious missions. 

Together, we call on Congress to take action and do more — so crime can be prevented, and lives can be saved. 

Michael Masters is the CEO of the Secure Community Network, a non-profit organization that protects Jewish facilities in the United States. Wayne Frederick is the president of Howard University in Washington, D.C. 

Tags Antisemitism buffalo shooting domestic terrorism Hate crimes Politics of the United States Racism in the United States

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